McCain Death, Florida Shooting Cast Shadows On Tuesday's Primaries

Aug 28, 2018
Originally published on August 28, 2018 11:31 am

Voters go to the polls in Arizona and Florida today, picking nominees in critical Senate and gubernatorial races.

Weekend events could cast a pall over contests in both states, though. Arizona Sen. John McCain died on Saturday, and while it's the seat of retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake on the ballot Tuesday, both the late senator and President Trump — who did little to hide his disdain for McCain — have factored into the bitter primary there.

And in Florida, a shooting in Jacksonville on Sunday could amplify the issue of gun control in many races this fall following the attack at a Parkland, Fla., high school earlier this year that killed 17 students and staff.

A Trump ally there is looking for a boost from an endorsement by the president in his race for governor against the more establishment choice.

Several congressional races in both states will also be top targets come November. And in Oklahoma's runoff elections, Republicans will select their gubernatorial nominee.

Here's what to watch in each state:

Arizona

The GOP Senate primary to replace Flake has pushed candidates to the right in order to woo voters, and that could hamper Republican efforts to hang on to the seat this fall.

Rep. Martha McSally, the first female combat pilot in U.S. history, is national Republicans' preferred nominee. She's expected to emerge from the three-way race, but it hasn't been pretty. She's had to shift on immigration and has cozied up to Trump, after she denounced him in 2016. That has led McSally's very Trumpian opponents — former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio — to attack her as an inauthentic conservative.

Both Ward and Arpaio have stoked plenty of controversy in the past, and that has Republicans worried about their hold on the seat if either becomes the nominee. Most recently, Ward — who unsuccessfully challenged McCain in his 2016 primary — suggested on Friday that a statement from McCain's family saying he was ending treatments for brain cancer was timed to hurt her campaign. McCain died the next day.

The hardcore anti-immigration Arpaio was pardoned last year by Trump after he was convicted of criminal contempt for defying a court order in a racial profiling case. But Arpaio has struggled to gain traction in the race. Trump has not endorsed in the race, but he has had praise for McSally.

Arizona is a top pickup opportunity for Senate Democrats in a cycle where they're largely on defense. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema is expected to easily win the Democratic primary on Tuesday. Democrats are feeling bullish because, while Flake saw his party moving too far in Trump's direction for him to win the GOP primary, the president won Arizona overall by less than 4 points in 2016.

McCain's seat will be filled by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey in an appointment made after the senator's funeral; there will then be a special election on the 2020 ballot to fill the remainder of McCain's term.

Ducey also has a primary challenge, but he's expected to win easily and even got a supportive tweet from Trump on Monday to help. On the Democratic side, Arizona State University education professor and progressive favorite David Garcia has led in polls.

Both parties have their sights on flipping two Arizona House seats in November as well. Trump won Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran's 1st District by 1 point, and Republicans have a crowded primary to see who will face him.

Meanwhile, voters will have to replace McSally in the Tucson-based 2nd District, which she easily won in 2016 even though it went for Hillary Clinton by 5 points, making it a prime Democratic pickup opportunity. Former Democratic Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, who used to represent the 1st District, is running there now, with the blessing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. But 2016 nominee Matt Heinz is running to her left. Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce President Lea Marquez Peterson looks like the favorite for the GOP nomination, but this will be a hard seat for Republicans to hold.

Florida

The marque Senate race between Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott is all but set, and the biggest intrigue tonight is who will face off to succeed the outgoing governor.

Both parties' gubernatorial primaries encapsulate their raging ideological battles. On the GOP side, Rep. Ron DeSantis is hoping an endorsement from Trump can buoy him over establishment favorite Adam Putnam, the state's agriculture commissioner. DeSantis has leaned heavily on his allegiance to Trump, even running an ad where he's "building a wall" and reading The Art of the Deal to his kids. Putnam has painted DeSantis as solely a Trump puppet who doesn't know Florida issues.

On the Democratic side, the national party would prefer the more centrist former Rep. Gwen Graham, the daughter of former governor and Sen. Bob Graham. But she still faces several primary challengers, including Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who has gotten progressive support from the likes of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

There are more than a half-dozen competitive Florida House races that will choose nominees, too. One of the top Democratic pickup opportunities in the country is the open 27th District in Miami, where Clinton won by 20 points and GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is retiring. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala is the Democratic front-runner, while Republicans hope that TV anchor Maria Elvira Salazar is their nominee and could put up a fight in the Hispanic-majority district. Still, this is a tough seat for the GOP to hold on to.

In the neighboring 26th District, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo is a perennial target in a district Clinton carried by 16 points. The DCCC is backing nonprofit consultant Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, an Ecuadoran immigrant, in that primary.

Oklahoma

Former Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and mortgage company executive Kevin Stitt will go against each other in the GOP gubernatorial runoff. Cornett is running on his government experience, while Stitt has campaigned as the outsider, self-funding his campaign and hitting Cornett for not supporting Trump enough. Cornett, meanwhile, has gone after Stitt's company and its lending practices during the mortgage crisis. Whoever wins will be the favorite this fall in the open seat against Democratic nominee Drew Edmondson, the state's former attorney general.

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